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Tropical Garden Grow Guide
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May 2023 Plant of the month
(credit: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture)To help ensure food security and boost nutrition, every backyard garden should contain a section of easy to grow cassava. Cassava is an ornamental plant with many benefits.
Description: A plant that produces edible large palmate leaves and underground edible strarchy tubers. Cassava typically grows to be between 5'-8' in height and approximately 4' in diameter. There are 2 common varieties; bitter and sweet. The sweet variety is far more popular.
How to grow: Start plants with 5” - 10” pieces of stem cut close to the stem post harvest. Make sure at least 3 or more knobby buds are visible on each stem. Cultivate the soil to loosen, create a shallow trench about 3”- 4” deep then lay two cassava stem pieces side by side about 3” - 4” apart, cover with soil, then water throughly. Keep soil moist, but not soggy and well weeded until plants grow taller than the surrounding weeds. Some farmers and garden resources recommend planting only one stem in each trench. Others advise planting just the bottom half ot two stems crossed. This method is easier, but less productive. In any case allow about 2.5' - 3' between plantings.
Disease and insect control: Cassava is resistant to most plant pests as the plant contains hydrocyanic glycosides. White flies and other insects may be controlled by placing large sheets of stiff poster board coated with oil close to plants. Ground moles and wee wee ants are fond of cassava. Moles may be deterred by neem oil and hot pepper spray.
How to harvest: Check plants about 8 months post planting. Most varieties of cassava ripen in approximately 9-12 months. There are some varieties that are ready for harvest in 5-6 months, check these varieties 5 months post planting. Uproot one plant to check that tubers are at least 4” long. Tubers typically grow to be between 8” - 15” long and from 1” - 4” in dismeter. Once the tubers are harvested they must be used within 2-3 days post harvest. Tubers may be covered with water and refrigerated to extend their viability by a few days. Black lines running through the harvested cassava indicates spoilage.
Health benefits: Cassava tubers contains vitamin A, phosophorous, calcium and riboflavin. They are a good source of fiber and helps to prevent constipation. The leaves are high in protein and contain vitamin C, some B vitamins and beta carotene. Cassava peels have medicinal properties to help promote healing of injuries.
IN ORDER TO MAKE CASSAVA SAFE FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, THE TUBERS AND LEAVES MUST BE THROUGHLY COOKED. COOKING REMOVES CYANIDE FROM THE ROOTS AND LEAVES.
Here is a simple effective way to process cassava to remove cyanide. Peel each tuber removing the outer peel and the inner pinkish peel. Wash each tuber, then cut the tubers into pieces about 4” to 6” long. Place in a large pot cover with water cover and boil over a low heat for at least 60 minutes, Drain the cooking water then allow the pieces to cool. Once the pieces are cool, cut each one in half vertically remove the stringy cord from the center and discard. Cassava leaves must also be boiled prior to eating them.
A simple basic cassava recipe: Follow the directions above to cook then cool the cassava pieces and cut into 'sticks' about ½ to ¾ “ wide. Heat coconut oil in a skillet to a low to medium heat then add the cassava pieces turning gently after about 2 minutes cook for another 2 minutes, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve. Cooked cassava pieces may be added to soups or made into desserts.
Deborah Harder's book: 'Fruits, Roots and Shoots: Using Tropical Plants for Self Sufficiency' contains a helpful guide to growing cassava with many recipes and guides to using cassava.
Sabals Cassava Farm, a family owned and operated farm, is located on Valley Road in Stann Creek. They have many cassava products for sale and operate tours about the process of growing, harvesting and enjoying cassava while honoring and celebrating Garifuna culture.
Did you know that
tapioca is made from cassava?